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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Winless season looms for Stony Brook football in Battle for the Golden Apple

Tight ends Cal Redman and Cole Bunicci and right tackle D’Angelo McKinnie celebrate wide receiver Jayce Freeman’s touchdown on Oct. 21. The Stony Brook football team’s season will end this Saturday versus Albany. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

As the 2023 season comes to a close, the Stony Brook football team will look to avoid its first-ever winless season.

The Seawolves (0-9, 0-7 CAA) will come home to Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium this Saturday to take on the No. 18/25 Albany Great Danes (7-3, 5-1 CAA). Albany is currently in a five-way tie atop the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) standings with two weeks left in its regular season. Stony Brook’s season will come to a premature end, as its originally-scheduled bye will come next week. Opening kickoff for the Battle for the Golden Apple is scheduled for 1 p.m.

The end of the season will come as a relief to the Seawolves’ offense, as their 14.7 points per game ranks last in the CAA. They have struggled to move the ball in general, as they have the third-fewest total yards per game (319.4) in the conference.

Stony Brook is led by quarterback Casey Case, who despite having a few fantastic performances, has been below average in his first season at the helm. Case is averaging just 190.4 passing yards per game on the worst completion rate (54.9%) in the CAA. His 10 touchdown passes are the second-fewest amongst starting quarterbacks in the conference, and his 10 interceptions are the second-most.

Case has been benched in favor of backup quarterback Daron Bryden in each of the last three weeks, who has played well in his garbage-time appearances. Bryden has completed 18 of his 28 passes (64.7%) for 178 yards and a touchdown as a backup. With the season all but over, Bryden may see some snaps under center.

The Seawolves’ top target is wide receiver Anthony Johnson, who leads the team with 53 receptions and ranks fifth in the conference with 660 receiving yards. Wide receiver Jayden Cook leads the team with four receiving touchdowns and is second on the team with 32 catches, while fellow wideout Jayce Freeman is second on squad with 337 receiving yards.

Stony Brook’s run game has struggled all year, as they are averaging the second-fewest rushing yards per game (109.1) in the CAA. The team’s leading rusher is running back Roland Dempster with 362 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. He has been effective when given the ball, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Backup running back Ross Tallarico will be featured on third downs, where he has put up good numbers, rushing for 252 yards while averaging 5.9 per carry.

Fellow backup running backs Johnny Martin and Shakhi Carson have been effective, with both averaging over four yards per carry. However, they have had injury-plagued seasons and may not see the field on Saturday.

The Seawolves’ offense will face off with a dominant Albany defense. The Great Danes are allowing just 18.6 points per game, which is the second-best mark in the CAA and 11th-best in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). The unit has also allowed just 310.1 total yards per game, which is the third-best mark in the conference.

The shining point of their defense is their front seven. They own the best run defense in the CAA, surrendering only 81.9 rushing yards per game on 2.7 yards per attempt. They have also been prolific rushing the passer, as they have tallied a conference-leading 33 sacks.

Albany head coach Greg Gattuso has been thrilled with the play of his defensive line this year.

“We love to get after the quarterback,” Gattuso said in a press conference on Monday. “We’ve got multiple guys that can do it. If you can hold people down … it gives you a great chance to win.”

The Great Danes’ defensive front is led by defensive end Anton Juncaj, who leads the CAA and is second in the FCS with 11 sacks. His battery mate — defensive end A.J. Simon — is right behind Juncaj with 10 sacks. Simon and Juncaj are also first and second in the CAA in tackles for a loss, with 16 and 14 respectively. Middle linebacker Dylan Kelly leads the entire FCS with 121 total tackles.

While Albany’s front has been lights out, its secondary has strayed towards the middle of the conference. The unit has allowed 228.2 passing yards per game, which is the seventh-most mark in the CAA.

The Great Danes’ secondary has been very opportunistic this year, as they are second in the CAA with 13 interceptions. Leading the pack is free safety Aamir Hall, who co-leads the conference with four interceptions. Kelly has grabbed another two from his linebacker spot. Overall, 10 different Albany defenders have at least one pick this year.

The Great Danes’ offense is having a down year, but they have still been good. They are seventh in the CAA in scoring offense (27.6 points per game) and 10th in total offense (359.6 yards per game).

Albany’s offense is led by quarterback Reese Poffenbarger, who is fourth in the conference in total passing yards (2,366), but he is doing it on a less impressive 56.0% completion rate. He has thrown 23 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.

Poffenbarger’s top target is wide receiver Brevin Easton, who leads the team and is seventh in the CAA with 625 receiving yards. Easton also leads the team with seven receiving touchdowns. Wide receiver Julian Hicks trails him with six touchdown receptions. Wide receiver Marqeese Dietz leads the team with 37 receptions and has compiled 423 yards and two touchdowns.

The Great Danes’ offensive line has struggled to protect Poffenbarger, as they have allowed 27 sacks, which is the second-most in the conference.

As a result of its lackluster offensive line, Albany’s run game has not fared well. Despite having the fourth-most rushing attempts (345) in the conference, it has the sixth-worst rushing attack with just 120.8 yards per game. The team’s lead rusher is running back Griffin Woodell, who leads the team with 497 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns while averaging 5.0 yards per carry.

Stony Brook’s nightmare season on defense may get worse on Saturday. The Seawolves hold CAA-worst marks with 39.3 points and 475.2 total yards allowed per game. Stony Brook’s red zone defense has also been nonexistent, as opponents have scored on 32 of 36 (88.9%) trips, with 27 of them (75%) resulting in a touchdown.

Stony Brook’s secondary unit has been its downfall. The unit has allowed the fourth-most passing yards per game (292.9) in the FCS. They have also struggled to take the ball away, as they have only picked off passes in two games this year. Cornerbacks Quenton Porter and Willensky Nicolas will be tasked with guarding outside the numbers, while the safety positions could be occupied by a number of people. Strong safeties Nick Chimienti and Brandon Higgs are candidates to play alongside free safeties Noah Rodriguez and Jalen Hoyle.

The Seawolves’ defensive front has slowed down as of late after once being a bright spot. They have just seven over their last five games after tallying 12 through the first four. Leading the pass rush is defensive end Anthony Williams, who leads the team with four sacks. Williams and defensive end Rodney Faulk co-lead the team with 4.5 tackles for a loss.

Despite the favorable matchup, Gattuso is not underestimating his winless opponent due to the in-state bragging rights that are on the line.

“I know [Stony Brook] has struggled this year,” Gattuso said. “There were multiple years where we were struggling and beat them … it’s a game we know is very important and we’re going to have to play well to win.”

Head coach Chuck Priore — who may be coaching for his job — is looking forward to getting the Golden Apple trophy back.

“It’s a positive thing for our team,” Priore said. “It does have great meaning … it’s certainly important for our [players] to go on and represent correctly on Saturday.”

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